Religion Bulletin, April 2023: Protestants Arrested, Hmong Coerced into Renouncing the Duong Van Minh Religion

Religious freedom in Vietnam continues to deteriorate.

Religion Bulletin, April 2023: Protestants Arrested, Hmong Coerced into Renouncing the Duong Van Minh Religion

[The Government’s Reach]

Dak Lak Province: Two Christians from Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ Prosecuted

On April 8, 2023, the Dak Lak provincial police’s Security Investigation Agency arrested and prosecuted a practitioner of the Central Highlands Evangelical Church of Christ for undermining national unity. Police also prosecuted another practitioner residing in the United States as part of the case. [1]

The two accused are Y Krech Bya, 45, a resident of Buon Don District, Dak Lak Province, and A Ga, 26, who has resettled in the United States after living as a refugee in Thailand.
Police read Y Krech Bya his arrest warrant. Photo: Nhan Dan [The People] newspaper.

Police stated that the two held hundreds of online meetings and collected information misrepresenting the government, harming the solidarity between the government and the people and between religions.

"Undermining national unity” is the most common crime used to prosecute ethnic minority religious activists. Anyone who has contact with people abroad to campaign for religious freedom in Vietnam is vulnerable to this charge.

The crime of “undermining national unity” was created in 1977 and remains in use. The current Penal Code punishes offenders with up to 15 years in prison. [2]

Beginning in 2018, the government further stipulated that those who prepare to commit this crime, i.e. those who "seek or prepare the tools and means or create conditions to commit the crime or establish or participate in a criminal group," will be punished with up to 3 years in prison.

Dak Nong Province: Priest Previously Prevented by Authorities from Holding Mass Attempts to Register Religious Activities but is Denied

On April 21, 2023, Vietnamese authorities denied Father Francis Xavier Le Tien’s application for permission to conduct religious activities at his chapel. He has been obstructed from conducting mass since March 2023. [3]

The chapel is located in the seat of the Pauline Chapelry (Dak Giac Parish, Ngoc Hoi District, Kon Tum Province).

Authorities rejected his application on the grounds that: "Father Le Tien’s application to register a temporary place of practice has not met the conditions as prescribed by law…."

The authority to permit places of mass religious gathering is assigned to the head of the commune-level People's Committee. [4] However, such permission is difficult for the Catholic Church to acquire, especially in the mountainous areas inhabited by ethnic minorities, such as the Central Highlands and a number of northern provinces.

Independent Cao Dai Dignitary Blocked from Meeting American Delegation

On April 24, 2023, police prevented Hua Phi, a Cao Dai dignitary, and member of the Interfaith Council of Vietnam, from going to Ho Chi Minh City to meet a U.S. delegation. [5]

Practitioners and religious activists are often hindered from meeting with foreign diplomats.
The Interfaith Council of Vietnam meets with a representative of the U.S. Consulate General in Ho Chi Minh City on April 24, 2023. Photo: Interfaith Council of Vietnam.

The meeting between the Interfaith Council and the U.S. delegation took place before the U.S. State Department released its 2022 report on international religious freedom.

Members of the Interfaith Council have recommended the United States add Vietnam to its list of Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) due to its numerous violations of religious freedom.

[Religion 360*]

U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom: Religious freedom in Vietnam Continues to Deteriorate

In early May 2023, the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) released its annual report on the state of international religious freedom. The Vietnamese government is said to have increased its repression in 2022. [6]

The report summed up that in 2022, not only were unregistered religious groups rigorously persecuted by the government, but registered religious organizations as well.
The USCIRF recommended that the U.S. Department of State add the countries in red, including Vietnam, to the list of Countries of Particular Concern. Photo: USCIRF.

Authorities have been determined to eliminate unregistered religious groups such as Duong Van Minh, Falun Gong, independent Montagnard and Hmong Protestants, and other new religious groups.

In addition, independent religious groups such as Cao Dai and Hoa Hao have been forced to join registered organizations that are strictly controlled by the government. Authorities deny these groups, along with those mentioned above, from registering their own religious activities.

Concurrently, the government has begun to encroach upon registered religious groups by issuing two draft decrees to implement the Law on Belief and Religion, with many provisions to help the government further tighten control.

Since implementing the reform of religious liberty in the 1990s, the Vietnamese government has yet to relinquish its ambition to become “the church of all churches”.

It does not want any religious organizations to operate independently; these organizations must either work for the government, have their activities restricted, or be eliminated entirely.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom continues to call on the State Department to return Vietnam to the list of Countries of Particular Concern in the near future.

In December 2022, the State Department put Vietnam on its Special Watch List; despite this, the Vietnamese government increased its repression, doggedly pursuing the elimination of unregistered religious groups, such as Duong Van Minh. [7]

[New Religions]

Cao Bang Province: Authorities Force Residents to Convert to New Religion

Cao Bang provincial authorities recently lauded their achievement of forcing two groups of practitioners in Hung Dao and Dinh Phung communes (both in Bao Lac District) to join a state-controlled church. [8]

According to the article, these two groups had been following the South Korean Saving Grace Church since 2011 but had been continuously monitored by the government, which had used a variety of measures to prevent the groups’ religious activities. By 2022, authorities had forced more than 200 practitioners to abandon the church.

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